Free off-peak transit for seniors: a win-win-win idea for the new Council’s first 100 days

Transit advocate Jim Young (left) thinks free off-peak transit for seniors is a winning issue for Burlington’s new City Council.

Editor’s note: the following was published in The Burlington Gazette on Nov. 30. You can see the original article and comments at

By Jim Young

In a previous op ed for The Gazette on the “First Hundred Days” I asked for patience and realistic expectations from a new council. Most of the issues that gave rise to the electoral shake up at Burlington City Council are simply too big and complex to expect them to be resolved in the first hundred days.

The “adopted” Official Plan, changes to the Downtown Mobility Hub and the missing transit and parking plans all require significant work by staff and review and reconsideration by council. They may also require Regional approval and compliance with provincial legislation. So while work on these gets underway in the first hundred days, don’t expect quick results on these portfolios. Given the last fiasco on the OP, we should be demanding that council and staff take appropriate time to seek our input and get the OP right this time.

However one immediately winning issue that can be achieved as a simple 2019 budget amendment, is free transit for seniors during off peak hours (10.00 to 2.30 Monday to Friday), an idea whose time has surely come.

This was originally proposed by Burlington Seniors Advisory Committee (BSAC) in 2016 for the 2017 budget and defeated by 6 votes to 1. The idea is detailed in BSAC position paper “Improving Transit for Seniors Improves Transit for Everybody” and has since been adopted by Burlington for Accessible Sustainable Transit (BFAST) who support the idea and for other disadvantaged groups and as part of a more comprehensive long term transit plan.

Council support

In the BFAST 2018 election all-candidate transit survey, all six Councillors elect and Mayor-elect indicated support for the idea, some wholeheartedly, some with qualification, suggesting it might be expanded to other disadvantaged groups.

The buses already run empty during those off-peak hours so the only cost is an amount of lost revenue and that is not overwhelming. Based on figures supplied by Burlington Transit in 2016 I calculated it might cost between $48,500 per year and $72,750 depending on the rate of uptake. The previous Director of Transit agreed the cost for a one year trial would be less than $100,000. In an email to me his biggest concern was that any trial would prove so popular, it would be difficult to repeal. It is less than one half of one percent of the city transit budget.

It is possible that provincial funding for transit, a complex formula based on ridership (not revenue) might increase enough to offset any loss of revenue.

Perhaps Transit Director Sue Connor, who has won the respect of city staff and transit advocates equally, can provide updated figures for the cost, the potential provincial funding increases and whether there might be an overall gain for Burlington Transit.

Alternative for Seniors

As well as filling our mostly empty, off-peak buses the “Improving Transit Paper” details the impact of reducing traffic congestion, improving road safety, reducing CO2 emissions, providing a dignified alternative for drivers who lose their drivers license to age related issues. It also outlines some economic benefits for the city and local businesses and the health benefits to seniors who suffer from social isolation.

BFAST events that bring citizens up to date on transit events are always well attended. Might they be heard by the new city council as well?

So come on Mme. Mayor and brand new Councillors. What are you waiting for? This will help fill the buses, reduce traffic congestion, improve road safety, provide economic benefit for local retailers and help improve the health and well being of our seniors; all of which i’m sure were on your platforms.

This is a win – win – win for Council, for Burlington Transit and for seniors. It is also an opportunity to demonstrate that our new council listens to our citizens and delivers on its election platforms and positions.

(Jim Young is a member of BFAST’s Steering Committee and the Burlington Seniors Advisory Committee.)

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